Monday, July 25, 2011

A Landing As Safe As It Could Be

The leaders of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) seem to have settled their internal rifts with remarkable geniality – for now. The central committee meeting of the party Monday passed chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s political paper dividing organizational duties among the key protagonists flexing their muscles.
While the latest rejigging might not be enough to allow the party to focus on peace and the constitution – which Dahal’s document has called its main agenda – Maila Baje thinks it does allow the Maoists to deflect some of the blame for missing the next crucial national deadline on August 28.
According to Dahal’s proposal, senior vice-chairman Mohan Baidya will head the party’s organization department along with the disciplinary body while vice-chairman Baburam Bhattarai will chair the parliamentary board and will be the prime minister candidate for the future government. Similarly, another vice-chairman Narayan Kaji Shrestha will lead the party’s team in the current government complete with home portfolio until Bhattarai can take the top job at some unspecified future date. General secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa will oversee the military commission.
In the end, the much-ballyhooed Bhattarai-Baidya alliance, which saw Shrestha and Badal jump into the fray from their own vantage points, has ended up with Dahal staying put. Appearing to deconcentrate authority, he has in fact created an opportunity to play each rival off against the others.
Dahal knew his gambit would rile Prime Minister Jhal Nath Khanal and the Nepali Congress even before he got his rivals’ nods over the weekend. Both have not taken kindly to the Maoists’ effort at invoking extraterritorialism especially vis-à-vis the council of ministers.
Still, the settlement suits the other Maoist leaders just fine. Baidya and Bhattarai could rise above their ideological differences to challenge Dahal because they had other overriding imperatives. Baidya, in light of the all-round mockery Dahal’s pronouncements seem to be evoking within the nation, perceived the Chinese as being no less miffed.
Ever the man to publicly shun responsibility outside the party, Baidya sought to project Bhattarai as an alternative to Dahal. But only after ensuring a monumental geopolitical transformation behind the scenes. Baidya, we are told, has been instrumental in Bhattarai’s growing contacts with the Chinese. (Whether our hardest-line Maoist had any role in conferring the ‘Nepalese Deng Xiaoping’ title from a visiting Chinese dignitary remains unclear, though.)
Bhattarai, on the other hand, has grown disenchanted by how his gulf with Baidya has served to strengthen Dahal. Regardless of the genuineness of a Bhattarai tilt northward, the posture itself, Baidya knows, would be enough to rattle Dahal and sow a few seeds of distrust in Delhi. Baidya, unsure of the depths of Bhattarai’s southern grounding, was, however, happy to see him named prime ministerial candidate only to be checked by Dahal, who continues as leader of the parliamentary party.
Shrestha’s 11th hour posturing must have been viewed with some suspicious by both Baidya and Bhattarai, perhaps even as something sponsored by the wily Dahal. Badal’s movements may have been aimed at maintaining his own relevance in the affair, but it did have the added effect of diluting the opposition to Dahal. So the protagonists realized the folly of continued brinkmanship and sought a safe landing.
Given the goings-on in the other political parties left, right and center, the Maoists’ landing was the safest it could have been. So does it really matter whether the affair was a ruse all along or was for real?